News / Asia

    Rare Earths Sources Court Japan

    As Japanese industries reel from Chinese export restrictions on rare earth metals, alternative sources are moving in to fill the gap.

    In 2005, Japanese industries asked Yasushi Watanabe, a geologist at the Geological Survey of Japan, to find new sources of rare earths - metals that are used in products from computer hard disk drives to hybrid car batteries.

    China for years has supplied most of Japan's rare earths. Watanabe's job has been to help assess the quality of deposits and the viability of mining them in countries outside China. In recent years, the Japanese government and large Japanese companies have entered joint ventures to explore for and mine these metals all over the world - in Vietnam, India, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Australia and the United States.

    Still, when China curbed rare earths exports to Japan in September following a territorial dispute, Japanese industries had to scramble.

    "It was a big mistake. Last year, due to the economic depression Japanese companies didn't buy enough amounts of rare earths from China. In future, we will not repeat such failure again," Watanabe said.

    At a rare earth conference this week in Hong Kong, organized by Metal Events and Roskill Information Services, miners from Greenland, Australia, the U.S., South Africa, Turkey and other nations reached out to the Japanese.

    Japan's high-tech industries need about 30,000 tons of the metals this year, and the need is expected to grow in the next two years, partly because of the demand for hybrid cars.

    Ahmet Arda, managing director of AMR Resources, says his company has accelerated the production of rare earths in southern Turkey to take advantage of the shortage.

    "It's a reality everybody wakes up to. We wanted to bring that production forward and we are looking for strategic partners, somebody who is interested in rare earths," Arda states, "This can be Honda, Mitsubishi, Siemens, Bosch."

    Watanabe, who is also a group leader at Japan's National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, says Japan is developing technology to improve recycling of some rare earths from discarded electronic products. And it is seeking substitutes for rare earth components.

    He says in two years Japan will find its own steady supply of rare earths.

    "I think this year and next year would be very hard for Japan, but from 2012, this will change because we have our own supply sources and two major deposits Mountain Pass and Mount Weld in the U.S. and Australia will start producing rare earths. Now stable supply is more important than the price. Even if the price is somewhat higher than Chinese products, probably Japanese companies would buy from those mines outside China," Watanabe said.

    Rare earth minerals are difficult and expensive to mine. And like most mining activities, doing so results in environmental damage, particularly because the ores from which these metals are extracted can be radioactive. Chinese mines have produced rare earths at a much lower cost, forcing competitors to shut down in recent years and creating a near monopoly.

    Germany and the United States are among the countries that have expressed concern about China's decision to cut rare earth exports. Both countries have industries that need the minerals.

    The rare earths issue may figure in the strategic agenda for the leaders of Japan and the United States in their summit later this week on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Yokohama, Japan.

    China denies it is using rare earths as a diplomatic leverage against Japan and defended its export controls as a step toward more sustainable mining and protecting its environment.

    You May Like

    How Aleppo Rebels Plan to Withstand Assad's Siege

    Rebels in Aleppo are laying plans to withstand a siege by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in likelihood the regime cuts a final main supply line running west of city

    Probe Targeting China's Statistic Head Sparks Concern

    Economists now asking what prompted government to launch an investigation only months after Wang Baoan had been vetted for crucial job

    HRW: Both Sides in Ukraine Conflict Targeted, Used Schools

    Rights group documents how both sides in Ukraine conflict carried out attacks on schools and used them for military purposes

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growthi
    X
    February 10, 2016 5:54 AM
    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growth

    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Civil Rights Pioneer Remembers Struggle for Voting Rights

    February is Black History Month in the United States. The annual, month-long national observance pays tribute to important people and events that shaped the history of African Americans. VOA's Chris Simkins reports how one man fought against discrimination to help millions of blacks obtain the right to vote
    Video

    Video Jordanian Theater Group Stages Anti-Terrorism Message

    The lure of the self-styled “Islamic State” has many parents worried about their children who may be susceptible to the organization’s online propaganda. Dozens of Muslim communities in the Middle East are fighting back -- giving young adults alternatives to violence. One group in Jordan is using dramatic expression a send a family message. Mideast Broadcasting Network correspondent Haider Al Abdali shared this report with VOA. It’s narrated by Bronwyn Benito
    Video

    Video Migrant Crisis Fuels Debate Over Britain’s Future in EU

    The migrant crisis in Europe is fueling the debate in Britain ahead of a referendum on staying in the European Union that may be held this year. Prime Minister David Cameron warns that leaving the EU could lead to thousands more migrants arriving in the country. Meanwhile, tension is rising in Calais, France, where thousands of migrants are living in squalid camps. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clowns

    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Families Flee Aleppo for Kurdish Regions in Syria

    Not all who flee the fighting in Aleppo are trying to cross the border into Turkey. A VOA reporter caught up with several families heading for Kurdish-held areas of northern Syria.
    Video

    Video Rocky Year Ahead for Nigeria Amid Oil Price Crash

    The global fall in the price of oil has rattled the economies of many petroleum exporters, and Africa’s oil king Nigeria is no exception. As Chris Stein reports from Lagos, analysts are predicting a rough year ahead for the continent’s top producer of crude.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.